Monday, February 13, 2006

Palace of Dreams

Ismail Kadare is one of the most interesting writers in modern Europe. Over many years I have read his works (good translations) and recognised Broken April, Generals of the Dead Army, Pyramid, The Three Arched Bridge and especially The Palace of Dreams as real masterpieces, occasionally combining the best of Orwell or Franz Kafka with the magical realism of Thomas Mann.

Last year, Kadare won the inaugural Mann Booker International Prize and he is- together with the Estonian, Jaan Kross- talked of as one of the more likely novelists from Europe to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The publication of Kadare's latest work, The Successor, is therefore an event of considerable literary significance- I for one will look forward to reading it.

What, perhaps, makes Kadare's achievements particularly noteworthy is that he is Albanian and writes in that language. His works are flecked with references to Albanian history and culture, but most of all, they address the great stain on Albanian history- the tyranny of Enver Hoxha. Though the all pervasive nature of that tyranny makes it unclear how much Kadare physically resisted the vile regime of the "Albanian Party of Labour", his novels are searing denunciations of the dictatorship and the way that it perverted the psyche of the individual.

I will be returning to Albania shortly- the land that Byron called the"noble nurse of savage men". Always as the bleak and beautiful mountains come into view I try to catch sight of the millions of concrete bunkers that the paranoid and twisted regime scattered across the Albanian countryside, though these are gradually being dismantled. In the increasingly colourful chaos of Tirana it is hard to equate the vivacious and generous Albanians with the evil regime that once governed them. Yet everywhere there are signs- people of the generations that grew up under the baleful glare of the monster are much shorter: they did not get enough to eat under the dictatorship. When they mention Hoxha, which is seldom, the say "the dictator" and make the sign against the evil eye. Such is the legacy of the man that murdered so many, including his closest collaborators, in cold blood.

Kadare's beautiful novels were born in pain, and they speak to all of us of the price of the failure of freedom.

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